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Sunday, fourth week of Lent

March 14, 2010

Blessed Laetare Sunday!

You may remember “Gaudete Sunday” from Advent. Well, “Laetare” means “rejoice” too,
and we can trade our Lenten violet for the rose-color of joy today.
We rejoice because we’re more than halfway through our time of spiritual preparation for Easter!

The rose color actually originated with the use of roses on this day.
One source claims that members of the Early Church exchanged roses on this day
as a sign of mingled sorrow and joy (soft petals and prickly thorns).

What is more certain is that rose vestments are used for the ceremony of the papal blessing of the golden rose on the fourth Sunday of Lent (which was referred to as an ancient custom in the 12th century). This rose, which is fragranced with incense and set with rubies (it was once tinted red), is a symbol of Christ, the Flower that sprang from the Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1). The fragrance signifies the sweet aroma of Christ, which should be diffused throughout the whole world by His followers (see II Corinthians 2:14-15). The color and thorns remind us of His Passion.

“Why is your apparel red, and your garments like those of the winepresser?”
-Isaiah 63:2.

Originally the blessed rose was given to a prince who was present or was sent to a monarch who had done something special for the Church. Now it’s reused until a worthy recipient is chosen (places of devotion–the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. received one in 2008).

The prayer that’s used to bless the rose is lovely:

‘O God! by whose word and power all things were created,
and by whose will they are all governed!
O You who are the joy and gladness of all Your faithful people!
we beseech Your divine Majesty,
that You vouchsafe to bless and sanctify this rose,
so lovely in its beauty and fragrance.
We are to bear it, this day, in our hands, as a symbol of spiritual joy;
that thus the people that is devoted to Your service,
being set free from the captivity of Babylon
by the grace of Your only-begotten Son
who is the glory and the joy of Israel,
may show forth, with a sincere heart,
the joys of that Jerusalem, which is above, and is our mother.
And whereas Your Church, seeing this symbol,
exults with joy for the glory of Your Name;
do You, O Lord! give Her true and perfect happiness.
Accept Her devotion, forgive us our sins, increase our faith;
heal us by Your word, protect us by Your mercy;
remove all obstacles; grant us all blessings;
that thus this same, Your Church,
may offer unto You the fruit of good works;
and walking in the odour of the fragrance of that Flower,
which sprang from the root of Jesse,
and is called the Flower of the field, and the Lily of the valley,
may She deserve to enjoy an endless joy
in the bosom of heavenly glory, in the society of all the saints,
together with that divine Flower, who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ages of ages. Amen.’

Today is also known as “Mothering Sunday,” since today’s antiphon begins “Rejoice, Jerusalem!”, and the Church (represented by Jerusalem) is our Mother. This became a day to honor mothers, giving them flowers (roses?!) and a cake and asking for their blessing–the original, Christian, Mother’s Day.

Father of peace, we are joyful in Your Word,
Your Son Jesus Christ, Who reconciles us to You.
Let us hasten toward Easter with the eagerness of faith and love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer for today’s Mass)

Joshua 5:9, 10-12 (home in Canaan at last)
Psalm 34:1-6 (Taste and see the goodness of the Lord)
II Corinthians 5:17-21 (be reconciled to God)
+Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (Prodigal son)

Home for the holidays.

It’s been nearly 500 years since Israel has been home in the land that God promised to Abraham. After 430 years in Egypt (Exodus 12:40) and 40 years in the desert (Numbers 14:34),
they’re home at last! Like the prodigal son coming in from the pigpen, though,
they have some cleaning-up to do.
First God brought them dry-shod through the Jordan River–a foreshadowing of Baptism
(at the very spot where Jesus Himself would be Baptized! see Joshua 3, Matthew 3:13-17).
Then He ordered the circumcision of all the men (it hadn’t been done in the desert)–
yet another foreshadowing of Baptism (see Joshua 5:2-8, Colossians 2:11-12).
Finally He could say, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you” (Joshua 5:9).
You don’t smell like swine anymore!
At long last, they were reconciled with God, their Father (see Exodus 4:22)
as He had so ardently desired.

It was time for a celebration!
Instead of feasting on fatted calf, like the prodigal,
they had Paschal lamb with unleavened bread and all the trimmings–
their holiday of holidays (“holiday”=“holy day”), which they celebrated with great joy.
For seven full days they celebrated the feast of deliverance from slavery–
for first time ever, at home.

This isn’t just a historical curiosity.
It’s a celebration to which we are personally invited every day.
Our Father sent His appeal through His first bishops
and He continues to plead through the bishops of today:
“We implore you, in Christ’s Name: be reconciled to God!” (II Corinthians 5:20).
He invites us to come home and get cleaned up
(Baptism first; if we’re already baptized, then Confession–
“the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace”,
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1446).
For those who aren’t quite so dirty (venial sin) there’s holy water at the door
and a Penitential Rite as we begin.

Then it’s time for the celebration!
We, too, are invited to the Paschal feast,
to the celebration of our deliverance from the slavery of sin,
only we celebrate in fulfillment what Israel only experienced as a foreshadowing.
Our unleavened bread does not remain bread!
It becomes the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Lamb of God
who was sacrificed to make our freedom possible (see Matthew 26:26, John 1:29).
We could even say that it becomes the fatted calf:

“And bring the fatted calf, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ,
whom he calls a calf, because of the sacrifice of a body without spot;
but he called it fatted, because it is rich and costly,
inasmuch as it is sufficient for the salvation of the whole world.
But the Father did not Himself sacrifice the calf,
but gave it to be sacrificed to others.
For the Father permitting, the Son consenting thereto
by men was crucified.”
-St. John Chrysostom, Father of the Early Church,
quoted in the Catena Aurea, compiled by St. Thomas Aquinas

This is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to which our Father invites each one of us…every day.
In every Mass, in our Father’s house,
Jesus becomes Present to us and feeds us under the forms of bread and wine.
Time is swept away as we take our places at the Last Supper, at Calvary and at the empty tomb (among others).

“Those banquets are now celebrated,
the Church being enlarged and extended throughout the whole world.
For that calf in our Lord’s body and blood is both offered up to the Father,
and feeds the whole house.”
-St. Augustine, Father of the Early Church,
quoted in the Catena Aurea, compiled by St. Thomas Aquinas

We celebrate this feast with special solemnity every Sunday–every “little Easter”–
with the climax coming (of course!) at Easter itself, our Solemnity of Solemnities.

This is what we’re looking forward to.
This is why we’re slogging through this forty-day desert of Lent, this long road back home.
Jesus has promised that the grief of our labors will be turned to incomparable joy
(John 16:20-22). St. Paul confirms: “I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

This long road has an end…and it’s finally in sight!

Yours on the way home,

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